Pilot program allows food vendors to test the market in East Lansing
Benjamin Scheffler typically works with auction companies to sell food to bidders at events, but he's currently set up in East Lansing and is looking to become a more permanent fixture.
Scheffler, owner of Hank’s Hotdogs, operates his stand roughly between Dublin Square and Black Cat Bistro on Abbot Road. Hank's Hotdogs has been up and running since last Monday, Scheffler said.
“This is the spot that I would have if I decided to do full-time, and if it works out this next upcoming week, then I definitely look forward to that,” Scheffler said.
Scheffler is part of East Lansing's "Concessionaire's Pilot Program," a type of trial period where vendors may pay a $100 fee to temporarily operate a food cart or truck in the city for a two-week test run. This year's pilot program runs for six weeks, and is in the middle of its last two-week period, which ends May 7.
East Lansing Community Development Analyst Heather Pope said East Lansing policy has allowed concessionaire carts since 1992, and food trucks were added in 2012. The first pilot program took place in 2015 and was brought back for this year. Pilot programs will also take place in 2018 and 2019.
“It’s a great opportunity for businesses to come down and test out the market to see if there’s any interest in setting up their concessionaire cart or their food cart on a permanent basis,” Pope said.
East Lansing currently has no full-time concessionaires, Pope said. Should any of this year's pilot program participants decide the market is sufficient, they may purchase a one-year license at $1,800 for trucks and $1,200 for carts.
According to East Lansing policy, three food trucks are permitted to operate behind the parking garage on Albert Avenue and Division Street. Food carts are permitted to operate on the corners of Albert Avenue and Abbot Road, M.A.C. Avenue and Charles Street.
Petey's Donuts is currently participating in the pilot program in one of the food truck spaces and has been operating since Wednesday, owner Eric Petersen said. Based in Brooklyn, Mich., Petey's has three trailers and typically sells at farmer's markets and caters special events. Occasionally the company is hired by East Lansing groups such as fraternities and sororities, Petersen said.
“It’s a lot easier to get into (East) Lansing right now than it is other cities, Grand Rapids has food trucks but for us being two and a half hours from Grand Rapids from where our base is, with all the hoops we have to jump through it’s not even worth our time,” Petersen said. “It was kind of a no-brainer to come up here, people are very easy to work with, and (it’s) worked out well.”
Petey's is typically parked in front of MSU Auditorium when hired for events, Petersen said.
“Back here’s there’s not as much traffic, so everybody’s been out on social media letting everybody know where we’re gonna be and that kind of thing,” Petersen said. “Hopefully it picks up, it hasn’t been terrible but always hope for it to be busier.”
Scheffler barely missed the 2015 pilot program and made sure to sign up when he heard it was coming back.
“I do a lot of business with the auction companies, but this would be nice to fill in my time in between so that I’m constantly bringing in revenue instead of just part-time where I am now,” Scheffler said.
Excited for the opportunity to claim a more permanent location for the summer into the fall, Scheffler said he is optimistic heading into the pilot program's home stretch.
“Business has been good, it’s been an early couple of days and a late couple of nights, but it’s been pretty good so far,” Scheffler said. “I still have one more week to go, so we’ll see. I’m not making any promises, but I’m definitely hopeful for the future.”